Archive for May, 2005

Faint praise for antievolutionists

May 24th, 2005 — Wordman

Kansas (a few miles from my birthplace physically, light years philosophically) is considering changing their definition of science from:

Science is the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us

…to…

Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory-building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena

Started by proponents of intelligent design (ID), this has raised a huge outcry (mostly from those in other states) who view it as an attempt to inject religion into schools. While I can’t find much wrong in the suggested definitional change, those who fear the creationists have legitimate grounds to do so, given the release of the wedge memo into the wild. This memo “seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies” by creating a scientific-sounding basis for God and brainwashing people with it (instead of the Bible). The creation of ID is “phase I” of the strategy in this memo. The activity in Kansas is phase II.

While I have as much use for creationism as I do for the African myth of Bumba vomiting up the sun, my reaction to the events in Kansas, even if they do make this change, is fairly indifferent. This is for three reasons. The first is that I don’t think the wedge strategy will work. In fact, I think it will actually make creationism weaker. Right now, some evidence exists that evolution isn’t taught that much even now, particularly before high school, because creationists raise a ruckus about it. The semi-parody Evolution Outreach Project, for example, offers “gifts for science teachers” that include bullet-proof vests and stun guns. The wedge strategy seeks to replace the ruckus with a presentation of both ID and evolution. While the balance of such presentation is likely to vary widely (as per the wedge strategy), it seems to me that any mention of evolution in school (even negatively) is better than none. I suspect that most people who have chosen to teach science tend to lean more towards evolution anyway, some of whom will jump at the opportunity to openly teach rationality. Some teachers are already figuring out ways to do this:

There’s no question that if science teachers had their druthers, they wouldn’t be teaching intelligent design or gratuitously criticizing evolution in their classrooms. But they do. They can whine or refuse or resign. How much better for them to take this opportunity to teach their students while exasperating their school boards with the power of thoughtful investigation. And have a whole lot of fun doing so.

That ID embraces this “thoughtful investigation” seems even better for evolutionists. In a true stand-up comparison between evolution and ID, evolution completely crushes ID as a rigorous, scientific theory. Granted, you might not get that impartial comparison everywhere, but my guess is you’d see it more than you do now.

I’d rather have kids in conservative Christian parts of the country learning about a semi-sensible, though flawed, concept of “irreducible complexity” rather than “it’s true because it’s in the Bible”. At least the former follows some semblance of active logical thought, rather than passive surrender of cognition to vauge authority.

Secondly, I think the power of a school to influence thought on this subject is overrated. If the internet has taught us anything, it’s that people, even kids, rarely change their opinion because of facts. More often, an opinion is formed first, then “facts” are found (or disgarded) in order to justify it. Regardless of what they hear in school, kids who want to believe in a creator will likely continue to do so and kids that don’t, likely won’t. For many of them, it won’t particularly matter what the curriculum is.

Lastly, as flawed as intelligent design is, both it and the political tactics that back it are significantly healthier than previous religious objections to science that dissagreed with dogma (which usually involved setting people on fire). Those who oppose evolution are, dare I say it, evolving.

Microreview: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

May 12th, 2005 — Wordman

I have only vague memories of reading Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The movie was a lot like the book, except not funny. Or entertaining.

Complete Exalted charm trees

May 11th, 2005 — Wordman

I’ve been experimenting with using XSLT and XSL-FO for generating PDF character sheets for the characters in my Exalted campaign. As a side effect (and for some other reasons), I have created detailed XML representations of the charms from the game. Upon discovering graphviz, I realized that it would be trivial to turn this XML into a PDF with tree displays of all the charms.

The initial version of this document was released a while ago, but I just updated it to include Aspect Book: Water, The Fair Folk and the Book of Bone and Ebony. I also corrected a few mistakes. You can download this 170+ page beast from my Exalted page.

Ripping my CD collection

May 9th, 2005 — Wordman

This has been done before, so it’s not an original idea, but it’s long. Identify the lyrics in the following list (without using a search engine). The only hint you get is that I either own the album containing the lyric, or have performed it live for an audience at some point. Oh, and no band is repeated, though some artists may be. Some of these may be overly easy, others are nearly impossible. Post your guesses.

  1. Impotence. Boomerang. I’ll stab you.
  2. I’m worse at what I do best
  3. Bein’ alone’s a nowhere state of mind
  4. Feel me in your bones
  5. And, every night, I shut my eyes so I don’t have to see the light
  6. But singers and songs will never change it alone
  7. But, I ain’t never punched a tourist
  8. If you can feel what I’m feeling then it’s a musical masterpiece
  9. Although we both lie close together, we feel miles apart inside
  10. There’s just five words to say as you go down
  11. The ashtray’s full and I’m spillin’ my guts
  12. Everything I want the world to be is now coming true, especially for me
  13. No matter the pain, he ought to be unwinceable
  14. I’ve been everything you want to be
  15. Since birth I’ve been cursed with this curse to just curse
  16. She says it’s lack of sex that’s bringing me down
  17. Here I lie, in a lost and lonely part of town, held in time
  18. But many came, to much for Cree
  19. Scabbed knees and rice
  20. Je veux aller au bout de me fantasmes
  21. I know you, little libertine
  22. Your prison is walking through this world all alone
  23. He moves through space with minimum waste
  24. I drip steam like a microphone fiend
  25. My energy’s spent at last and my armor is destroyed
  26. Help me, I’m flaming. I must be a hundred and nine.
  27. It took a rumor to make me wonder
  28. Don’t believe in anything that you can’t break
  29. There’s a dead salmon frozen in a waterfall
  30. I take things off to clear my head
  31. Hey, Mr. Moonlight wont’cha follow me down? I need the company.
  32. Your pride has built a wall
  33. Half my life is in books’ written pages
  34. Dressed for the battle but not fatigued, my hat’s made of metal to avoid debris
  35. Jenata iazdi samotna
  36. Got my pills ’gainst mosquito death
  37. Here come the planes. Please form a straight line.
  38. Mom, please flush it all away
  39. Picture this. Paint a picture. Picture perfect. Paint a perfect picture.
  40. I am losing my mind. My head’s on the floor, for evermore.
  41. Don’t think ’cause I understand, I care
  42. Next to her cheap silicone, I look minimal
  43. No serenade, no fire brigade
  44. His days of asking are all gone
  45. Won’t go to Harlem in ermine and pearls
  46. Reflections in the waves spark my memory
  47. It could be normal but it isn’t quite
  48. Giant, ape-like invaders swim the river to New York
  49. Funny how my memory slips while looking over manuscripts
  50. Two eyes from the east
  51. Who knows? Maybe you were kidnapped, tied-up, taken away, and held for ransom
  52. I’ve felt the coldness of my winter
  53. Cuius latum perforatum aqua fluxit et sanguine
  54. I’m working, but I’m not working for you
  55. When in doubt, I whip it out
  56. Back street hoop star, you’ve got it good
  57. Burns like a red coal carpet, mad bull lost it’s way
  58. Daddy’s got a new .45
  59. Wake in the world with a clear conscience and clean hands
  60. Some people stand like trees, without a word
  61. London, Hamburg, Paris, Rome, Rio, Hong Kong, Tokyo
  62. If I swallow anything evil, put your fingers down my throat
  63. Dorsum nudum fero tui sceleris
  64. Convenience is the enemy
  65. I’ll get home early from work if you say that you love me
  66. To leather, to dildos, to curry vindaloo
  67. You make a move, I’ll make you feel like a human target
  68. He hears the silence howling, catches angels as they fall
  69. Sometimes you tell the day by the bottle that you drink
  70. And when I hurt, hurtin’ runs off my shoulders
  71. Breathe into me and make me real
  72. Put your straitjackets on tonight
  73. Have they lost their heads, or are they just all blind mice? We’ve heard all their stories one too many times.
  74. He’d give up all his comforts and sleep out in the rain
  75. Those not so blessed would be crying out murder
  76. Yes, I believe, but I’d rather not pray
  77. Give me your dollar whores
  78. Wider baby smiling you’ve just made a million
  79. You’re lucky to even know me. You’re lucky to be alive.
  80. Who will stay when the rain is fallin’ and won’t let it fall on you?
  81. Put the needle on the record while the drum beats go like this
  82. They’re borders and boots on top of us, pullin’ knobs on the floor of their toxic metropolis
  83. Night blooms will whisper to me “I’m lonesome as I can be”
  84. I will stand firm in the tempest
  85. Your CIA, you see I ain’t kiddin’
  86. I’m hard, but I’m friendly, baby
  87. I gave you a golden ring to show you my love, you went to stick it in a printed circuit to fix a voltage leak in your collector
  88. My fantasy has turned to madness
  89. I missed the bus and there’ll be hell today
  90. We are watered down and fully grown
  91. I left my body laying somewhere in the sands of time
  92. Please, I want a silver kitchen knife. I feel like taking a life.
  93. Your cotton ain’t rotten, just needs to be picked
  94. Snarling equinox among the rocks will seize you
  95. But the wind blows stronger, cold and long
  96. Like a drifter, I was born to walk alone
  97. You smile as I sip
  98. But look at Epitaph. He wins it by a half.
  99. The roar of guns and cannons almost made me cry
  100. I’m telling you, the tribesmen wouldn’t stand for this, man
  101. When I get through throwing it on you, you gotta come back for more
  102. Tied to machines that make me be
  103. Bought a beat up six string in a secondhand store
  104. This girl was in her working clothes
  105. I don’t like a thing about your sister
  106. A built-in remedy for Kruschev and Kennedy
  107. I got to laugh, ’cause I know I’m gonna die
  108. I know you’ll be a star in somebody else’s sky.
  109. And where are all the gods?
  110. No, I’m not here to harm you; I only want to kill
  111. I had to tell them, baby, you were armed with all you’d need
  112. My favorite weapon is the look in your eyes
  113. …but first, take care of head
  114. It’s not so pretty when it fades away
  115. Run in the shadows. Damn your love. Damn your lies.
  116. The billions shift from side to side
  117. Like staring at the sun, such gorgeous destruction
  118. The doctor came in, stinking of gin, and proceeded to lie on the table
  119. I saw the seven phials open, the plague claimed man and son
  120. He gave his life for tourism
  121. I missed ten million miles of road I should have seen
  122. She obliterated everything she kissed
  123. It’s the same old theme since 1916
  124. The cutout magazines remind me
  125. You’ll be dead before your time is due, I know
  126. We have nothing here except ourselves
  127. The comfort you’ve demanded is now mandatory
  128. The great almighty dollar leaves you lonely, lost and hollow
  129. Give me my freedom, and then you lock me in a tomb
  130. I’m goin’ down in it three times but, Lord, I’m only comin’ up twice
  131. Past eight by tens in shattered frames
  132. In Bengal, to move at all is seldom, if ever, done
  133. Some balls are held for charity, and some for fancy dress
  134. And you, you are a victim of this age
  135. I’m about to ruin the image and the style that you’re used to
  136. Tell me: when did the light die?
  137. The soul I took from you was not even missed
  138. Hey, cool cat, does this apply to you?
  139. Trade in your hours for a handful of dimes
  140. I’m a five foot mirror for adoring himself
  141. Men drinking beer with the foam afloat heard…
  142. All this machinery making modern music can still be open hearted
  143. Later on, they discovered this would make a great way of life for them
  144. …only stupid people are breeding, the cretins cloning and feeding
  145. I’m gonna hurt you if it happens twice
  146. Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a leading role in a cage?
  147. I could change my life to better suit your mood
  148. I seek to cure what’s deep inside, frightened of this thing that I’ve become
  149. The dusty road that’s ahead will be my board and my bed ’til what I am looking for is found
  150. Keep smiling until then

When names go bad

May 6th, 2005 — Wordman

Names matter. How we name things shapes both us and what is being named. A lot of people think that names have mystical power. (I wrote an inarticulate paper in college on attitudes towards mystical naming in Shakespeare’s time, for example.) A role-playing game suggests the idea that what separates us from animals is not tool use or even vocal communication, but that we can name things and animals cannot.

Apple, a company successful in large part because it cares about industrial design, looks and coolness, has developed a disturbing tendency to bestowe stupid names on their technology. This started a few years ago, when Apple came up with an incredibly neat idea. Realizing that all of their machines shipped with video cards with special hardware for drawing 3D technologies like OpenGL very quickly, and that much of this technology contains processors that are, in some ways, more powerful than the main processor of the machine, they hit upon the concept of treating each window on the screen as a thin, textured 3D object, and letting the video hardware deal with layering, drop shadows and so on. Sorry to readers who found the previous description filled with gobbledegook, but take my word for it, this idea borders on brilliant. Though somewhat obvious when you think about it, this is easily the most significant advance in windowing systems in a decade.

So, what did Apple call it? Given they had a graphics technology called Quartz, they decided that this great idea absolutely had to be called Quartz Extreme. Not something that stayed with the mineral theme, but evoked the idea of layers, like, say “Mica”. Not something that kept with a geological terminology like “Quartz Ashlar“, “Tessera” or “Tectonic”. Not even something that, you know, passes the laugh test.

With the release of Tiger they’ve made the naming even stupider with a refinement of the idea called “Quartz 2D Extreme”. Great. Now stupid and hard to say. Again, though, the idea it self is great. In two pages of his epic review of Tiger, John Siracusa explains it all better than I ever could. It’s just a shame such great ideas get such hideous nomenclature. I guess I should count our blessings; they could have called it “iQuartz 2D iExtreme Pro Gold” or something.

Another recent head-scratching name involves yet another really neat technology, this one an open standard. The standard deals with automatic discovery, negotiation and configuration of devices on a network. So, for example, you can just plug a printer into your network and this technology integrates it automatically. The standard itself has a pretty good name: ZeroConf. Apple’s implementation of this standard used to have a great name: Rendezvous. Unfortunately, this word is a registered trademark of someone else, so a lawsuit forced Apple to change the name. If the name they chose for a replacement is any indication, what Apple liked about Rendezvous wasn’t that it neatly encapsulated what the technology did and how it worked, but that it was in French. The new name, Bonjour, seems like it was chosen at random. Granted, something like “Liason” is also already trademarked, but if they wanted to go with French, they could at least have chosen a word that doesn’t sound so dorky, like “Maginot” or “Reddition” or even “Frère Jacques”. “ZeroConf” would be preferable to any of those.

I admit, naming is difficult. Very few things have perfect names. So far, I’ve only seen three things with names I consider absolutely flawless:

  1. A sex shop geared towards women called the Grand Opening
  2. A reggae band called the Joint Chiefs
  3. A book about female pirates called Booty

Anyone know of other great names or naming disasters?

Necklace question

May 2nd, 2005 — Wordman

The film Timerider featured a motorcyclist who accidentally goes back in time to the old west. Being hunky, he naturally beds a local babe and while basking in the afterglow, she asks him about his necklace, which is this misshappen hunk of metal. He informs her that his grandmother stole it from his grandfather and it was passed down to him. Later, in the dramatic finale, the motorcyclist is hanging from a helicopter, dangling a few feet from the babe. She reaches out and takes his necklace, just before the time portal closes and he is returned to his present. So, the big reveal is that the babe is the motorcyclist’s grandmother, implying that he is is own grandfather. Roll credits.

Since seeing this movie when I was 14 or so, my question has always been: who made the necklace?

Looks like I’ll miss my chance to ask those who might know how to resolve such a time paradox, as I’ll not be in Boston this Saturday. Thus, I’ll miss the time-traveller’s convention (of which, there need be only one). Perhaps I can travel back to it someday, necklace and all.